7 High Paying Jobs in California

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

California is home to one of the largest economies in the world. Learn how to find high paying jobs in California to maximize your success.

[Featured image] A surgeon in a white coat and stethoscope checks files in front of a computer monitor.

Are you interested in finding the highest-paying jobs in California? The Golden State is home to nearly 40 million residents, according to the United States Census Bureau, making it the most populated state in the country and a powerhouse when it comes to economic opportunities [1]. 

Additionally, California has the fifth-largest economy in the world, and it’s still growing. According to a report by Bloomberg, the state may overtake Germany for the fourth spot on the list. It’s already surpassed countries like France, the United Kingdom, and Brazil [2]. This kind of success can boost job opportunities in several fields. Let’s take a look at seven of these highest-paying jobs in California.

7 of the best-paying jobs in California

Working in California opens the door to a variety of industries where you can succeed and make a significant salary. Some of the biggest industry sectors when it comes to the number of people employed in California include health care, government agencies, business services, and leisure and hospitality, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [3].

* All salary data was collected from BLS.gov as of March 2023, unless otherwise stated.

1. Surgeon

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $351,580

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 3 percent

Requirements: A bachelor’s degree and medical degree; internship or residency program

Surgeons help treat illnesses and injuries by operating on patients. You might treat broken bones and injured tendons, remove cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, or correct birth defects like cleft palates. You’ll have to consider factors such as diagnostic tests or a patient’s health history when deciding the best course of action. Surgeons can specialize in a particular field, like cardiology, which focuses on the heart and blood vessels, or an orthopedic surgeon and work on bones, muscles, and tendons.

Surgeons need to earn a post-secondary degree as a Medical Doctor (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Medical school can be a six- to eight-year program and include a residency where you get hands-on work in a specialty of your choosing. You will also need to earn a license, but state requirements can vary, so make sure you know what California expects to be licensed there in your field.

2. Computer systems manager

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $193,500

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 16 percent

Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in computer or information science or a related field; additional work experience

A computer systems manager organizes computer-related actions for a company or organization. You may be responsible for installing and maintaining computer software for your company, or planning and monitoring security for its systems. You also might have to learn technology as part of your company's short-term plans and long-term plans for different departments. A computer systems manager may become an IT director or get a higher position, such as chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO).

Computer systems managers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer or information technology or a related field. You might take courses in software development and computer programming, while mathematics and business classes can also be helpful. And it’s also a good idea to get experience in the information technology sector in a variety of positions before moving up to a managerial role.

3. Lawyer

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $176,610

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 10 percent

Requirements: A law degree; typically a passing mark in a state’s bar examination

Lawyers represent different entities, including individuals or businesses, in legal cases and disputes. You might also work on advising clients on legal issues by researching questions and coming up with legal recommendations. Lawyers prepare legal documents such as contracts, wills, and deeds. You can also specialize in a particular type of law like tax, family, or environmental law.

You’ll need to get a bachelor’s degree and then complete a Juris Doctor (JD) from an accredited law school to become a lawyer. Lawyers also have to take and pass “bar exams” in order to be licensed to practice law professionally. Each state may vary when it comes to issuing a license to practice law, so make sure you check with California for its specific requirements. It’s also important that you take continuing education classes on a regular basis to keep up with any changes to the law.

4. Airline pilot

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $227,870

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 6 percent

Requirements: A bachelor’s degree; flight training; must meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements

Airline pilots are responsible for flying airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft. You may also analyze conditions and machinery before flying, refer to navigation tools, work with air traffic control, and operate flights from take-off to landing. It’s also critical that you can handle stressful situations and adapt to mechanical issues or emergencies while in the air.

Pilots usually need a bachelor’s degree in a field related to flight, such as transportation or engineering. You also will have to complete a flight instruction and training program accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). An FAA program can also help you earn certificates and ratings in order to legally fly as a professional pilot. You may have to get specialized certification depending on the type of aircraft or type of business you go into as a pilot, including working for a commercial airline.

5. Nurse practitioner

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $151,830

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 40 percent

Requirements: A master’s degree; must earn a state license and pass a national certification exam

Nurse practitioners help provide primary and specialized health care for patients. You may work in an office or in the field. You can work solo or help a doctor review patient records, perform exams, diagnose, and evaluate treatment responses. As a nurse practitioner, you can work in a variety of specialized fields based on age, such as pediatrics or geriatric care. Also, you may choose to work in a particular field of medicine, depending on particular issues and illnesses that may interest you.

Nurse practitioners need at least a master’s degree in an advanced nursing field. Your education may include studying pharmacology or advanced health assessments. You most likely will have to earn a license to be a nurse practitioner. Check with California’s Board of Registered Nursing to learn more about the state’s requirements. You also may need certification from a national nursing association.

6. Dentist

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $165,950

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 6 percent

Requirements: A Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree from an accredited dental school; licensed in the state they practice

Dentists are responsible for diagnosing and treating problems with patients’ teeth, as well as managing preventative care. In this role, you may fill cavities, repair damaged teeth, read x-rays, or prescribe medication for potential infections or dental issues. You can be a general dentist or specialize in areas like periodontics for gums and bones, orthodontics for teeth straightening, or pediatric dentistry for children.

Dentists usually get a degree as a DDS or DMD after earning a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-related field. As a dentist, you must get licensed to practice in your state. Requirements can vary from state to state, so it’s important to find out what California requires to get your license. You may also need additional training if you decide to take on a particular dental specialty or additional licensing to work in that specific field.

7. Natural sciences manager

Median annual salary in California (BLS.gov): $192,750

Job outlook (projected growth from 2021 to 2031): 6 percent

Requirements: A bachelor’s degree in natural science or a related field

Natural sciences managers oversee the work of chemists, physicists, biologists, and other scientific fields. You may hire and supervise scientific teams out in the field or conduct research in an office or lab setting. You also may be responsible for reviewing data and other study parameters as part of your organization or company’s research. It’s essential to also have good communication skills in order to present proposals or research findings from the work done by your team.

A natural sciences specialist usually needs a bachelor’s degree in a science field like biology or health care or a related field like engineering. To become a manager, a master's degree is typically required. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Public Administration (MPA) can help you advance in natural sciences. Licensing and certification are often not required, but they can be helpful depending on the type of field that interests you.

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Article sources


US Census Bureau. “QuickFacts California, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/CA.” Accessed February 7, 2024.


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